Arozarena's HR puts bow on PS for the ages

October 28th, 2020

The 2020 Willie Mays World Series Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet went to the Dodgers’ Corey Seager, a deserving winner who crushed just about everything he saw throughout the postseason. But there was little doubt, even after the Rays lost to the Dodgers, 3-1, in Game 6 on Tuesday night that was the breakout star of these playoffs.

Bobby Richardson remains the only player to be named World Series MVP despite playing on the losing team, having done so for the 1960 Yankees in the Fall Classic that ended with Bill Mazeroski’s historic walk-off homer in Game 7, but Arozarena made an argument right down to the final game.

Batting second against Dodgers right-hander Tony Gonsolin in Game 6, Arozarena put Tampa Bay ahead in the first inning by blasting his 10th home run of the postseason to right field.

That's all the Rays would score, however, and they lost the Series, 4-2.

Take a moment, though, to appreciate everything the rookie outfielder accomplished.

In the World Series, Arozarena went 8-for-22 with three homers, five runs and as many walks as strikeouts (four each). In 20 games this postseason, he slashed .377/.442/.831 with 10 homers, 19 runs and 14 RBIs. For a while there, it seemed as though he was rewriting the record books with every swing.

While listing all the things the Rays could be proud of despite falling short, center fielder Kevin Kiermaier referenced watching “Randy Arozarena this whole time be the best player on the planet.”

Some hits are more significant than others. From a team perspective, his Game 6 homer handed manager Kevin Cash the early lead he desired, despite the final result.

From a personal standpoint, Arozarena set Major League records for the most hits, home runs and total bases in a single postseason. His solo shot off Gonsolin gave him the Rays’ postseason records for most career home runs (passing Evan Longoria) and hits (breaking a tie with B.J. Upton).

His only concern now might be finding a place to display all of his milestone baseballs.

First he passed Derek Jeter to set the postseason record for most hits by a rookie. Then he topped Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltrán and Nelson Cruz to set the single-postseason home run record, with nine.

In the third inning on Sunday, Arozarena pushed past Pablo Sandoval and took sole possession of the single-postseason hits record, with 27, on an RBI single off Clayton Kershaw.

“Pretty special. He wanted the ball, too. I noticed that,” Cash said after the Rays' 4-2 loss in Game 5. "Congrats to Randy, and I believe Kershaw broke a record also with strikeouts. Pretty impressive career.”

Arozarena made history throughout this year’s expanded postseason. On the night he shattered the single-postseason home run record, Arozarena was playing his 18th game -- only one more than Bonds and Cruz totaled when they hit their eight homers. He recorded his 27th hit in his 19th game, two more than Sandoval played during his 26-hit postseason six years ago. Beltrán’s feat is all the more remarkable considering he went deep eight times in only 12 games in the 2004 postseason.

Arozarena also took ownership of another record previously held by postseason royalty. Friday’s home run gave him 52 total bases in the playoffs, and he finished with 64, blowing past David Freese's mark of 50 in 2011 for the highest single-postseason total. Arozarena also tied Freese’s single-postseason mark with 14 extra-base hits.

Among Arozarena’s other accomplishments this postseason:

• He had more three-hit games in these playoffs (five) than any player has recorded in a single postseason.

• He’s the second rookie to hit three home runs in a single World Series, following Charlie Keller, who did so for the Yankees in 1939. And he’s the first rookie to record at least one RBI in four straight World Series games since RBI became an official statistic in 1920.

• He hit his 10th home run in his 25th career playoff game, the third-fewest games it’s taken a player to reach double-digits. Only Beltrán (13) and Cruz (11) recorded more home runs in their first 25 career postseason games.

Keep in mind: He only has eight regular-season home runs in his career; among the other 44 players who have hit 10 postseason homers, Lenny Dykstra had the fewest regular-season homers (with 71) at the time of his 10th postseason long ball, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The unforgettable finish from the Rays’ wild Game 4 win on Saturday saw Arozarena running around the bases, stumbling, scampering, diving and pounding home plate after scoring the winning run of one of the wildest World Series games anyone has ever seen.

But he made history earlier in the Rays' 8-7 walk-off victory over the Dodgers at Globe Life Field. He slugged his ninth homer in the fourth inning, breaking the single-postseason record shared by Bonds (2002), Beltrán ('04), Cruz ('11) and Seager ('20).

“It feels really good to be able to break the record and be on top of that record board, but the most important thing is that we got the win and we came out victorious in such a tough game like today,” said Arozarena afterward.

Arozarena's Game 4 performance also tied him for the single-postseason record for hits by any player with 26, set by Sandoval in 2014. He lined a single to center field in the first, went deep in the fourth and laced a single in the sixth. His RBI single in the third inning of Game 5 on Sunday night gave him that record outright.

"But I don't play for records, I just want to try and win and help the team, that's way more important than the records,” Arozarena said on Friday night.

Arozarena tied the previous home run record with his eighth homer of the postseason off Kenley Jansen with two outs in the ninth inning of the Rays' Game 3 loss on Friday. He jumped on Julio Urías’ first-pitch fastball in the fourth inning of Saturday's Game 4 and clubbed it 399 feet out to right-center field.

“That was a really exciting game. It was incredible,” Arozarena said. “We’re both fighting to try to win the World Series, and nobody gave up. You keep on fighting until the end, and it was a good game.”

Arozarena's 111.3 mph solo shot on Friday was his 23rd hit of the postseason, breaking the single-postseason rookie record set by Jeter in 1996. Jeter won the American League Rookie of the Year Award after that season, whereas Arozarena -- who will maintain his rookie eligibility heading into next year -- all of a sudden looks like the prohibitive favorite for the award in 2021. Yes, he could win the AL Rookie of the Year Award after taking home AL Championship Series MVP honors.

“I think if you look at the American League postseason, he's been by far the best player offensively,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And Corey [Seager], our guys have done the same thing on the National League side. So you try to limit damage. He homered off us tonight and [had] a couple other hits. A heck of a ballplayer.”

The Dodgers clearly took note of the way the Rays' home run-hitting, "powerful boots"-wearing, dance-off-winning Cuban outfielder tore through opposing pitching staffs earlier in the postseason. They mostly worked around him in the first two games of the World Series, not giving him many chances to beat them.

Cash said after Game 2 that he was pleased with how Arozarena handled that treatment, as he walked twice in Game 2 after working one walk in Game 1, and predicted that Arozarena would find a way to punch back like he did in Games 3 and 4. He was particularly impressed with the rookie’s plate discipline on Wednesday.

Arozarena’s patience was on full display in the ninth inning of Game 4.

With two outs and Kevin Kiermaier on first base, Arozarena stepped in against Jansen. One swing from this postseason’s most dangerous hitter would have ended the game, and everyone knew it.

So Jansen worked carefully, getting ahead in the count, then firing a cutter just off the plate that Arozarena took for ball two. Arozarena took two of the next three pitches, walked to first base and then took off on Brett Phillips’ single for that eventful, unforgettable trip around the bases.

“We’re talking about Randy offensively for a really good reason, because he’s done so much damage in the postseason. But we’ve seen him show patience,” Cash said. “Randy’s not getting himself out. You’re going to have to get him out in the zone, and there’s been some really good pitches that he’s laid off of or fouled off to extend the at-bat.”